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REID AND ROBSON: Man City are exceptional but the title race is not over

Manchester City pulled into open water at the top after beating rivals Manchester United
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THE BLUE CORNER – PETER REID 

It may seem ominous but the difference I’ve seen in Manchester City this season is that Pep Guardiola is more hard-bitten.

In previous years you could argue he let his purist principles get in the way. City had to play total football even if it came at a cost.

Against Liverpool at Anfield, where they have struggled a few times, I saw Guardiola set up in a tactical manner which respected Liverpool’s strengths on the break.

Manchester City pulled into open water at the top after beating rivals Manchester United

Manchester City pulled into open water at the top after beating rivals Manchester United

Against Manchester United on Sunday with the score at 2-1, he brought off Sergio Aguero and added Ilkay Gundogan to gain extra control. Last season, that may not have been the case. but in both instances this time City benefited.

There’s an edge, perhaps a more ruthless nature about them. They absolutely hate being beaten.

There’s a well-worn adage in football: ‘Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.’ From first-hand experience I saw last season when Wigan, where I’ve been working with Paul Cook, beat City in the FA Cup, they hated it.

In England we have a tradition that the opposition manager comes into your room for a drink afterwards. No one from City came in after that game.

That’s not a criticism, I have no problem with that. Maybe Guardiola isn’t one for that tradition anyway but if you take a defeat in that manner it shows what matters to you and that seeps through to his players.

City imposed themselves upon United and proved too much to handle at the Etihad

City imposed themselves upon United and proved too much to handle at the Etihad

City imposed themselves upon United and proved too much to handle at the Etihad

I’ve seen Fabian Delph having a go at his team-mates at half-time telling them it’s not good enough. It shows a team spirit, a togetherness and a desire to win.

The best players all had that focus. Liverpool’s players used to throw their medals into a cardboard box and talk about the next one; Roy Keane at United used to tell his team-mates to do the same.

Pundits highlight their ‘tactical fouling’, Fernandinho stopping teams on the transition. Listen, we all had someone who would take one for the team. It’s game management and, if you’re not switched on to it, more fool you.

You can pinpoint the money they’ve spent. Yes, they’ve spent big, but can anyone say Guardiola hasn’t improved Raheem Sterling tactically and technically? He’s a special coach and it’s clear he’s making a huge difference to the players he works with. Aymeric Laporte has been a revelation.

The question is, can City’s legacy continue to evolve once Pep moves on? The way the football group is set up, I’d say yes. I’ve seen the talent they have at Under 23 level and below.

City now top the Premier League by two points after 12 matches played

City now top the Premier League by two points after 12 matches played

City now top the Premier League by two points after 12 matches played

The key will be whether those players have the mentality of a Jadon Sancho or a Phil Foden. Who wants to stay and fight for a career here or who wants to try elsewhere? If City find the balance, success could continue for some time.

However, I don’t believe this season’s title race is a foregone conclusion. Guardiola won’t either. Football has proven too many times that hiccups happen.

Jurgen Klopp, Maurizio Sarri and Mauricio Pochettino are all fantastic coaches with excellent teams and resources to compete and you can bet Jose Mourinho, a serial winner in his career, won’t be taking this lightly… whatever he says publicly. This City team are exceptional but it’s not over yet.

THE RED CORNER – BRYAN ROBSON 

Manchester United have to really improve their recruitment. Though the gap between them and Manchester City seems large, I still believe two or three excellent additions will make them competitive.

During my time in management it was always proved that if you buy average players you end up with an average team.

For years under David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s recruitment was brilliant. Sir Alex was able to tweak and rebuild teams at any sign of weakness. United have to get better at that now.

United struggled at the Etihad but two or three additions could help solve their issues

United struggled at the Etihad but two or three additions could help solve their issues

United struggled at the Etihad but two or three additions could help solve their issues

The club can still attract players but they will have to match the spending of City to give Jose Mourinho a better chance. They should allow him to identify who he wants and then go out and get them. Then it’s up to Jose to deliver a title-chasing squad and I still believe he is the man who can take them forward.

There are mitigating circumstances for United’s performance against City on Sunday. The squad didn’t get back from Turin until 3.30am on Thursday and that saps your energy ahead of a derby game — plus they were without Paul Pogba. 

He has plenty of critics but I’m not one of them. He’s a big-game player and the team sorely missed his dynamism across the park.

Jose Mourinho's side were inferior to Pep Guardiola's, though will not give up the title hunt

Jose Mourinho's side were inferior to Pep Guardiola's, though will not give up the title hunt

Jose Mourinho’s side were inferior to Pep Guardiola’s, though will not give up the title hunt

There has been criticism of the defence but the midfield has to take responsibility to protect them first and that hasn’t happened on a number of occasions this season.

The World Cup took its toll on United’s start to the campaign but there have been signs of recovery up until Sunday. Now it’s a case of recharging and going again.

United fans shouldn’t be too despondent. It’s a long, hard season and there’s plenty of twists to come. A league title was never realistic but, with a couple of additions, it is realistic to think they can make the top four and Champions League, then look to step up next season. City have set a high standard but it’s not insurmountable.


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